First Generation College Students: Changing Relationships


Beginning college as a first-generation college student is exciting and might be just a bit intimidating. We’ve provided some suggestions to help you manage getting adjusted to school here. There is one less obvious adjustment to consider – the personal adjustment to your role as a college student and how this might impact your relationships with family and friends.

Being the first in your family or friend circle to attend college will probably open many areas of learning and opportunity for you. Sometimes though, this can create some friction with your family and friends. But if you are aware of this, many of the difficulties can be avoided, or at least minimized.

Here are some ideas to consider:

  • High hopes and expectations: as the first in your family to attend college, there will often be lots of pride around your current achievement and hopes about your future success. This pride and admiration can feel really nice. At the same time, it can feel like a source of pressure on you. It may be hard to ever suggest you are having a hard time for fear of disappointing your family.
  • Acknowledge your appreciation: it will be helpful if you regularly acknowledge to your family and friends (especially your family) how much you value their emotional (and if appropriate, financial support) and encouragement. Even if you want to discuss a challenge or problem with them, remind them that just because it is hard, it does not mean you are not appreciating the opportunity.
  • You are still the same person: regularly remind your family and friends that while you are having an educationally enriching experience at college, you are still basically the same person you were before and that you still deeply value your home and loved ones. Even if you have deep disagreements, it is important to convey your differences with respect and consideration to the position of others.
  • If tensions develop, discuss: there may be times when your college experience will create real differences in opinion and attitude between you and your family and/or friends. These could be political differences or sometimes related to differences in religious ideology or values – all of which might be difficult to address. If you begin to feel this happening, find people around school to speak with, this could be a professor who is influencing your attitudes or a college chaplain. There is a good chance they’ve had other students experience the same things and will have some ideas about how you might approach this. Also, speak with other students at school. It is very possible you are not alone in what you are experiencing and trying to understand your situations together can be very useful.
  • If tensions persist or are getting more intense consider counseling: campus counseling services are there to help you think through all kinds of problems – including family tensions and misunderstandings and changing relationships with friends.
  • It is ok to use support services: remember that even though you may think that as a college student you are supposed to “have all the answers”, no one actually has all the answers. It is ok and sensible to ask for help when you are having difficulty – whether it be an academic challenge or a personal challenge. Getting help does not mean you are failing.

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